O'Fallon, Illinois

A Pilgrimage of Faith: The Building Process & the Liturgical Design Consultant - Part 2

September 11, 2008

This is Part 2 of a 2-part article.  Read Part 1.


At the end of Part 1 of this article, I mentioned that between late April and late June, 2002, a series of Visioning Workshops was held at St. Clare's parish.  Each workshop involved illustrated presentations, handouts, and small group discussion. At the first session, we looked at facilities for gathering and hospitality and at the place of baptism. The second session addressed the arrangement of the worshiping assembly, the sanctuary, issues of accessibility, and the setting for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. Then in early June, the third session began with a look at the role of shrines and sacred art in the liturgical and devotional spaces.


During the second half of this third workshop, participants collaborated in groups of four to prepare a floor plan of the new church. The instructions for this exercise directed each group to merge their individual visions and give shape to a shared image of how the parts of the new church might fit together. The “verbal” participants were a bit timid about picking up the drawing pencil, but the “visual” thinkers had their chance to shine. This enjoyable change of pace gave the participants an insight to the challenge of the architectural design process. The group readily agreed to keep BCDM Architects on board.

For the fourth and final workshop, I arrived in the St. Louis area a day early to visit my mother before heading to St. Clare parish across the Mississippi. On the following morning of June 21, a major stroke led to her death that evening. Little did I know that the Holy Spirit would arrange for me present at her bedside that day. In a welcomed gesture of support, members of the building committee came to the hospital to pick up the meeting materials for the Saturday parish workshop and also to attend the funeral liturgy the following week. This support was another sign to me that the Spirit intimately involved in guiding our collaborative efforts at St. Clare – the support of the parish at this time of loss for me was greatly appreciated.

It was a great blessing that the committee members and the architects conducted the final parish Visioning Workshop on Saturday, June 22, in my absence. The agenda that day included the review of a summary of the parishioner drawings and proposed seating diagrams developed from their plans. The architects also presented an analysis of the project site, as well as preliminary master plan images. The meeting ended with a discussion of what would happen next in the process.

Parallel to the liturgical programming process, the architects from BCDM assisted the building committee in establishing a series of “commissions” – small groups of parishioners focused on specific areas of parish life and the building project. The architects conducted interviews with these commissions and developed the first draft of the architectural space program and potential cost ranges. They also hosted members of the building committee on a tour of church buildings in the architect’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.

church doorsThe commissions were assigned a number of tasks by the architects, and they made reports to the building committee in June of 2002. These dedicated parishioners contributed their collective wisdom to the formulation of the final architectural and liturgical program statements. Through their research and study, the commission members became very educated and involved, and developed a deep sense of ownership in the project. The commission members and other workshop participants had become a well educated group of supportive parishioners, primed to contribute to the church design process.

After all the groundwork laid in the programming step, the architects moved ahead quickly and efficiently with the master planning and design process. A follow-up participatory design workshop in early August allowed parishioners to understand how the design was evolving, consider alternatives, and offer valuable feedback. At this point in the process, it was clear that the parish was developing a deep sense of ownership, understanding, and support for the project. Early in the programming process, parishioners were clear that they wanted the new church to reflect the unique character and history of the parish. When asked at the last design meeting, “Did we do it?”, the attendees applauded! The only way this was possible was through the commitment of time and energy by many parishioners in collaboration with the liturgical design consultant, the architects, and the acoustical consultant.

With final design graphics and a refined project budget in hand, the parish proceeded into the capital campaign in the Fall of 2002. Through the generosity of many parish members, the campaign yielded significant funds. Unfortunately, due to the onset of a period of rapidly escalating construction costs, the goal of meeting the financial requirements for the project seemed to be an elusive target, much to the frustration of the project team.

procession insideHowever, with great wisdom, the pastor and parish leadership made the commitment to carry the flame through thick and thin, and protect the core of the vision created during the programming and design process. At every twist and turn and obstacle, the vision created and supported by the parish was honored and upheld.  Constant prayer, careful deliberation, and a high level of trust among all the members of the project team were the foundation for the ultimate success.  After many years of steadfast effort, ground was broken on May 15, 2005, with great anticipation. Then on September 30, 2007, the new church was dedicated with great joy. The pilgrimage of faith had arrived at the next stop on along the way. We knew that we had succeeded because as we looked back at the lengthy process, we were able to say, “Were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke to us along the road!”

Ken Griesemer is a liturgical design consultant based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.A.. He has been working as a liturgical architect and design consultant across the United States since 1985. His experience includes many projects of various scope in over 45 Catholic dioceses.

Photos provided by Ken Griesemer.


A Pilgrimage of Faith: The Building Process and the Liturgical Design Consultant - Part 1

An Opportunity to Build Up the Body of Christ (Part 1: Considerations for Building Committees; Part 2 and Part 3: The Liturgical Design Consultant's Role in Assisting Building Committees)

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